The seeds for the documentary based on Collins’ life, The Glamour and the Squalor, were sown in 2011, on the occasion of The End’s 20th anniversary. To mark the occasion, former DJs were invited back on air to talk a little about the station’s history and share behind-the-scenes stories about their time there. As usual, Marco had the best stories.
Filmmaker Marq Evans was captivated by the colorful anecdotes coming through his speakers, and knew he wanted to capture this rich, firsthand experience of the Seattle scene on film. “The film grew from being a documentary about the Seattle scene — as seen through my eyes — to the story of my life,” Collins tells us. And The Glamour and the Squalor is unflinching as it documents his highs and lows, from the accolades of excelling at a high-profile job in the music business to the addiction-driven fall from grace to struggling with a father who wasn’t shy about expressing his bewilderment over his gay son. It’s a real-life soap opera set against a dramatic Seattle-in-the-’90s backdrop — all handsomely scored by Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready.
The film debuted in front of a sold-out audience at the Seattle Independent Film Festival and opens in Los Angeles on Sunday, July 12th, as part of the LGBT film festival Outfest. To celebrate, the iconic DJ took some time to talk to Rhapsody about his life, the film and, of course, music.
Whose idea was it to make this documentary, and how did they approach you?
I was approached by a couple of filmmakers. One of them grew up listening to my radio show. KNDD celebrated their 20th anniversary by having all the DJs on the air to tell stories from The End’s history. They happened to be listening to my enthusiastic segments, and after two five-hour meetings, I agreed to do the documentary.
Was it a little creepy watching people talk about you in the past tense for the documentary?
Now that you say it, it is a little creepy. I guess it’s better to have accomplished something in the past than nothing at all. People want me to talk about the ’90s/Seattle/Kurt & Courtney/Nirvana all the time … STILL. I don’t mind; it was a part of my past that I’m proud of, but my head just isn’t in the ’90s. I’m not listening to old Alice in Chains records. I’m way more excited about the music coming out tomorrow.
The ’90s was a special time in music history, and you and your station were in the thick of it. Do you think something that groundbreaking could happen there today?
I really don’t think so. I hope I’m wrong. I feel like it’s gonna be hard for any band/artist to get as big as Nirvana or Pearl Jam in this era. There was quite a healthy hip-hop scene here several years back, and despite Macklemore’s success, it doesn’t seem to have grown like I thought it would. I dunno, the Internet definitely has its ups and downs. It allows ANYONE now to be a rock star — or at least to try to be. Some kid can make genius music in his or her bedroom and potentially be a superstar overnight. The downside of that is EVERYONE is trying to get their 15 minutes of fame. As a music fan, weeding through all the mediocrity is exhausting.
How do you stay so enthusiastic about music and about actively seeking out new bands?
It’s an obsession. It’s never waned. It’s one of the only things that I’m truly passionate about. Sometimes being in clubs gets old, but I often apply the 20-minute rule: If I’m not wowed in 20 minutes, I’m out. God, I sound so jaded! I’m really not. I still find extreme joy in discovering that hidden gem the world doesn’t know about yet.
Currently, I’m in love with an amazing unsigned country/folk singer named Courtney Marie Andrews. She was the keyboard player/background vocalist for Jimmy Eat World for years, and has recorded an amazing new record. She has such an old-school sound for such a young woman. Think Joni meets Loretta. Can’t wait for the world to discover her! Other than that I’m digging Kendrick, Miguel, Jamie xx, Sufjan Stevens, Tame Impala, and Purity Ring, and this new Hudson Mohawke record is my favorite of the year (so far).
There were a lot of personal reasons (your family dynamic, addiction issues, etc.) to say no to doing this documentary. What made you say yes?
I guess I felt like I had nothing to lose, and maybe my story could help someone else. To be honest with you, I’m still struggling with how honest the film got. I feel pretty exposed and wish certain scenes and comments were edited out. But I didn’t make this film. Thank god.
What (or who) made you decide to come out?
I knew I was gay at a very young age, but also knew that I’d better learn to hide it or deal with the consequences of living in a very small town. I came out in stages: first to my friends/family, then to coworkers and finally publicly. I came out because I couldn’t live a bullsh*t lie. I wasn’t being true to myself or anyone else. I wish I’d come out way earlier … like in the ’90s. Maybe I could have helped people struggling with the same fears. I just wasn’t ready.
In this age of consolidation and syndication, do you still want to be in radio?
I’m not ruling anything out. I wish radio took more risks, but I understand the nature of the business. I don’t agree that “playing it safe” and “by the charts” is a long-term solution though. I love being on the radio. I come alive with an open mic.
What do you think the role of terrestrial radio is today? How does a DJ resonate with people in an era of “playlists”?
I don’t listen to commercial radio much, but I think the role of a DJ/curator is even more important than it was in the past. Anyone can create a playlist. Music sounds better with context. The human element helps people emotionally connect to the music.
What was the first album you bought?
Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. It’s still one of my all-time favorites. I was obsessed by the creepy pop nature of Stevie Nicks and “Dreams.”
What’s the first song you remember hearing on the radio?
Something rad and sappy from the ’70s. Helen Reddy’s “Angie Baby”? The storytelling back then was just unreal.
What was the first song you played on the air?
When I was 16, I was a bystander on someone else’s show on KVMR (Nevada City) and I think it was Agent Orange’s “Everything Turns Grey.” I brought the 7″ single to the studio and begged the DJ to play it.
Who or what is your current guilty pleasure?
There’s not much guilt anymore. I love pop music. I dunno, Katy Perry? Brandon Flowers? Macklemore/Ryan Lewis? Passion Pit?
Read more about Marco Collins and listen to a curated playlist on Rhapsody.com